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Jeff Gordon needs another good showing at Daytona

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Jul. 04, 2013

Jeff Gordon knows the time is now.

The best opportunity for Gordon to make this season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup is to have a berth in hand without requiring last-race or even last-lap dramatics much like was necessary last season.

Without a victory so far this season, Gordon needs to be in the Top 10 of the series standings to ensure a chance to compete for the championship.

Much of his season has been erratic but he heads into Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway with back-to-back solid race performances that set him up for a return to the Top 10 with another good showing this weekend.

After a 39th place finish at Michigan, Gordon was second at Sonoma and eighth last weekend at Kentucky. He is 12th in points, only two behind 10th-place Joey Logano.

“Every race from here on out is going to be crucial for us to get ourselves into the Chase as well as be a threat for the championship. You always know if you’re in it, then you have a shot at winning,” Gordon said.

“We know that we’ve got to work hard and keep our heads up and build some momentum.”

Gordon has yet to put together three consecutive Top 10 finishes this season, which makes the Daytona race all that more important, particularly with only nine races remaining before the 12-driver Chase field is set.

“I think we were further back than 10th at this point last year than we are now. So, obviously last year things didn’t go so well,” Gordon said.

“I think that this team, the way I look at our team, is that we have high expectations put on us. We know the pressure that comes along with that to perform. And when we don’t, the criticism comes with that.

“I also know that nobody is more capable of pulling ourselves out of a hole and getting back on track than this team.”

Perhaps Gordon enjoys such confidence in part because he’s seen his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team do it before.

Gordon went into the September race at Richmond last season 13th in points and 35 behind 10th. He finished second and left the race with the ninth seed in the Chase and a chance at a fifth series championship.

A series of crashes and engine failures have tested Gordon and his team’s fortitude this season.

It’s especially uncharted territory for Gordon who has been a model of consistency throughout virtually his entire NASCAR career.

“You just never give up. You never lose faith in one another. When you get caught up in some wrecks and some different things, it can definitely be a little frustrating,” Gordon said.

“I feel like we get better as the season goes on. Sometimes, especially with a new car, things change over the offseason and I feel like as I get older, a little more set in my ways, it takes me a little bit longer to adapt to changes.

“So, throughout the season I feel like I get more and more comfortable and understand what I need and the team can help me accomplish that.”

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